Recently I was asked to give a presentation to the Woodworkers Association of NSW and this got me thinking about what spoon carving means to me and why I love it so much.
Before I discovered spoon carving I had never thought of myself as creative. I had dabbled in different forms of art; painting, drawing etc and none of them really did it for me. One of the things about spoon carving that really drew me in was that at the end of it I had something that I could use in the kitchen or as a gift (all of my friends and family have been gifted with a spoon at some point). Another thing was that no two spoons that I carve are the same. I could start out with the same basic outline each time and they still wouldn’t be the same. There is a lot of problem solving that goes on, you have to work with the grain and knots, bug holes etc. Just as well I am not a production carver trying to make the same spoon over and over again.
UNLEASHING THE MAD SCIENTIST
Along with the creative aspect of carving spoons I have discovered a love of experimentation.
There are so many different things that I can do to change the appearance of a spoon:
- Milk Paints and Metallic paints on the handle. We currently have 22 different milk paints and 6 different Metallic paints in our range to play with.
- Ebonising which makes the timber darker or even black depending on the tannin content of the wood. Baking soda can also have a similar effect (making the solution is a fun little experiment in itself).
- Baking the spoon. Yes, you read correctly you can bake your spoon in the oven to change it from a pale colour to a darker colour.
- Charring - Similar to baking you can make the appearance of your spoon darker, even black. You have to be careful not to burn it too much and render it useless but who doesn't love burning stuff with a blow torch!
- Spalting. This happens before you start carving your spoon whilst it is waiting to be freed from its log form. This is a natural process where fungus gets into the wood and creates swirls and accents in the wood. Some timber spalts better than others. The timbers that I have experienced good spalting with so far in my journey are birch, liquid amber (also known as sweet gum in the northern hemisphere) and callistemon (bottlebrush).
- Different finishing cuts to create tool marks and facets.
- Kolrosing is where you score a pattern or design into the timber surface, fill the scores with a substrate like ground coffee, cinnamon, etc and then seal it in there something burnish it and some oil.
- Chip carving patterns
- Relief carving
You can then use a combination of some of the above or some other finish. Who knows… you might discover something that nobody else has thought of yet. Have fun with it.
MEDITATION WITHOUT LEVITATION
When I carve, the tool and the piece are all that exist. I am focused almost to the exclusion of everything around me. This is good because it means that I am mindful of what the sharp knife is doing in my hands, but it also helps me to still my busy mind. I deal with anxiety every single day and when I am carving this drifts away and leaves me feeling a lot more peaceful.
Spoon carving is a very accessible hobby. You don’t need heaps of expensive tools to get started and you can do it almost anywhere (that you can safely have a knife out). Greenwood logs can be easily found free once you know where to get them from. When your friends and neighbours know you want them, they will quite often give you some or let you know they have “just seen a stack on the side of the road…” The occasional spoon gift can help to encourage this.
CONNECTION WITH NATURE
There is something special about creating a spoon from a piece of nature. It is the ideal form of digital detox. The green wood we are carving often reconnects us to the natural world. The wood may release its natural oils and an amazing scent, or we can appreciate the grain that emerges as the piece evolves. As I mentioned many a time, we are at the whim of the knots or borer holes we may find in the wood as we carve, a timely reminder that we need to work with the natural world rather than try and force it to our whims.
CONNECTION WITH PEOPLE
One of the things that first struck me about spoon carving was the sense of community. I have made many carving friends online via social media. In spoon carving there doesn't seem to be the hierarchy or snobbery of some other art forms. Perhaps because as a hobby it is still in its' infancy. Some of the most amazing carvers are incredibly humble and down to earth and many are willing to share their time and expertise with those that are just beginning. I've always found the spoon carving community to be welcoming and supportive.
As a spoon carving teacher, I have noticed that when people are in the zone carving in a group, they let their guard down and open up. Early on I ran a workshop where we were so caught up, that after I had cleaned up and was reflecting on the group, I realised that I didn’t find out anything about anyone in group. This made me really sad that I had missed out on an opportunity to connect with others and get a chance to have a glimpse into their world. Since then, once we have settled into a workshop, I welcome everyone in the group to tell us a little bit about themselves, if and when they feel comfortable. It is interesting to note that to date, not a single person has chosen not to join in. I think this is partly because of the environment I have worked to create, but mostly I believe that it is due to the fact that we have our heads down in our piece so perhaps our reservations are distracted and also people don’t have to make eye contact. In Western society we value eye contact as part of conversation. I love to look people in the eyes but not if it is going to make them feel uncomfortable or if it is going to come at the expense of a chance to learn something about them. If you are looking to meet other carvers then you can check out our Spoon Clubs page or consider starting one of your own. We would love to help you get the ball rolling.
KEEP IT LIGHT & FUN
It is for all of these reasons and more that perhaps I haven’t put into words and maybe couldn’t because it is just a feeling. I love that I can enjoy myself with carving and not be too serious. I really hope that you can find that sense of fun in spoon carving or some other form of creativity.